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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is Bizarrely Wonderful

Published December 30, 2009 in Movie Reviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of Sony Pictures Classics
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus Poster The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Most Terry Gilliam movies are so packed with information, I only get the broad strokes. 12 Monkeys is about time travel. Fisher King is about mourning. Every little device crammed into a set, every line of dialogue, that stuff gets hazy. It’s just so busy, visually and metaphysically, I just let it happen.

Review: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus


The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is Gilliam’s most surreal and boundless, if that’s possible. I don’t know what it would have been had Heath Ledger lived and everything gone according to plan. What has come out of the tragedy is something bizarrely wonderful and a fitting tribute to the late artist.

It’s still that handmade style that’s distinctly Gilliam. The set of the Imaginarium stage show is all that strung together contraption style, and even in the CGI world there’s some 2D cutout like the old Monty Python animation. Where CG made The Brothers Grimm look like a mess, it seems wildly artistic here. Either Gilliam made the technique his own after a rocky first try, or he was so inspired to complete this film that he came up with his masterwork.

The plot isn’t confusing. You can certainly follow along. There’s some impromptu street show, they rescue a suicide, some deal with the devil and Dr. Parnassus suggested all in innuendo. It just doesn’t matter. What matters is seeing Ledger in action, seeing the worlds Gilliam created both on the streets and in the Imaginarium. The camera’s all tilted, it looks weird and skewed and it’s wonderful.


The replacement of Ledger with other actors inside the Imaginarium is seamless and makes perfect sense in this abstract story. There’s still a lot of Ledger on the street, more than I expected to see since I didn’t know the exact timing of his passing. There are scenes where he’s wearing a mask and that could be anyone, but they don’t pull that a lot. This isn’t Game of Death.

I didn’t really analyze Imaginarium much or even try to make sense of it. I just absorbed it all, and the more crazy things happened, the more I loved it. It’s a dream-like collision of ideas, the kind that make sense when you’re asleep in a nonlinear fashion.
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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of Sony Pictures Classics
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